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Dannie Ocasio has taken a significant detour from his plan to become a youth minister, but the road he’s traveling is a good one. Dannie is the new, life enrichment assistant at The Springs at Monarch Landing. There, he hangs out with seniors in enriched living, and long-term skilled care, making sure that their days are full.

Dannie graduated with a degree in youth and family ministry from Lincoln Christian University. When he learned about The Springs, he was intrigued. Now he’s finding that many of the skills he’d use as a youth minister are put to good use at The Springs. “I have to listen first, and then meet everyone’s needs through listening. Sometimes I must guide them to a better decision. It’s all very fulfilling,” he said. Additionally, Dannie seeks and identifies everyone’s individual love language. “Everyone has as a love language. Some people love gifts, others love hugs, some like to go outside. Different things brighten up their day. Everybody has that language that speaks to them most. I make it a point to learn who it is that most needs a hug, or just wants to sit and talk about their life. I learn what their love language is and then respond to that,” he said.

Each day is different and fulfilling to Dannie. “My favorite part is being able to learn about the residents…to sit and talk with them and learn about their lives and who they were before they came here. We have such interesting residents who were very successful in their lives,” he said. “My goal is to bring some happiness into the residents’ daily routines. It’s about the energy I bring. I can hopefully make them smile and make them laugh. Residents often tell me that they’ve had fun after we’ve spent time together. That means the world to me and means that I’m doing a good job and they’re looking forward to spending more time together.”

Dannie said that he has a unique connection with the residents. He has cerebral palsy, which impacts his walking and caused a learning disability. He takes his challenges with a grain of salt and said the disability does not define who he is. “It helps me relate better to the residents. It gets tiring being stuck and I know that feeling. They had freedom before and could do anything they wanted, and now some of them always need someone to assist them with what they do. I know how that feels, but even in those moments, I know how to laugh and have fun. That helps me do my job better,” he said. “Sometimes residents will compare their physical challenges with mine and it helps to build a bridge.”

Dannie said that the greatest takeaway thus far with his job, is the realization that all the residents care deeply for each other. “I find that culture worth preserving and cultivating in them, and in myself. We should all care for each other.”

Monarch Landing is a Life Plan Community located on a scenic campus in Naperville, Illinois-named “one of America’s best places to live and retire” by Modern Maturity, and “the best city for early retirement” by Kiplinger. Monarch Landing offers independent living, promoting a vibrant life style for active seniors. The Springs at Monarch Landing offers assisted living memory support, enriched living, respite, rehabilitation and skilled nursing services, thus providing complete continuing care for seniors. Monarch Landing is owned by Senior Care Development and managed by Life Care Services.

Read article in The Chicago Tribune.